An inquest into the death of primary school headteacher Ruth Perry heard she started keeping a diary the day before Ofsted began their inspection and stopped making entries just 48 hours before she killed herself.
Reading Coroner’s Court heard how Thames Valley Police officers discovered Mrs Perry’s diary with entries ranging from the day she found out about the inspection to January 6th, two days before she died.
The headteacher was found dead by two policemen responding to a 999 call on January 8th this year.
One of the officers who responded to the call made a statement to the inquest, saying he found the diary and there were no entries prior to the day before the Ofsted inspection.
The coroner’s court heard that attempts were made to resuscitate Mrs Perry at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading but she was unresponsive.
The coroner added that a post-mortem examination concluded Ms Perry’s cause of death was hanging.
Mrs Perry took her own life because she feared her family would be financially ruined if she lost her job after her Caversham Primary School was downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’, following a disastrous Ofsted inspection in November last year.
Ruth Perry took her own life because she feared her family would be financially ruined if she lost her job after her Caversham Primary School was downgraded to ‘inadequate’
Berkshire Coroner Heidi Connor asked Ofsted chief Chris Russell whether ‘pausing an inspection’ was a ‘real entity’ or ‘mystical creature that has been created’ to answer criticism following Mrs Perry’s death (Stock photo)
Berkshire Coroner Heidi Connor read from the statement of PC Thornton which stated: ‘We found a diary that she [Ruth Perry] had written. There were no entries before 14 November and none after 6 January.’
The inquest heard that Mrs Perry found out about the inspection on November 14, the day before it took place.
Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, previously said Ms Perry had experienced the ‘worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed the school on November 15 and 16 last year.
She was found at her house on January 8th – two days after her last diary entry.
Reading Borough Council previously told the inquest it will be more ‘proactive’ in challenging Ofsted inspections and ‘advocate for school leaders’ from now on.
The inquest heard from the local authority’s education chief, who said he has spent ‘a lot of time’ considering the events surrounding Mrs Perry’s death after the inspections last year.
A photograph of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire
Reading Coroner’s Court was told previously that an Ofsted school inspection could not be paused even if it is causing extreme stress and anxiety to the teachers under review.
The inquest into her death in January this year has previously been told by Ofsted staff that Mrs Perry’s colleagues could have asked to ‘pause’ the two-day review as the headteachers mental health deteriorated rapidly.
Asked by Berkshire Heidi Connor why Reading Borough Council had not challenged Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ grading of the popular primary, the Director of Education Brian Grady replied: ‘This is something that I have thought about a lot over this past year.
‘We are going to make a stronger, more proactive and robust role to challenge complaints about Ofsted inspections.
‘We are going to support school leaders about their rights and we are going to advocate for school leaders.
‘This is an area of significant difference and learning [from last year].’
Mr Grady said he was unaware that a school had the option to ask for a ‘pause’ in an Ofsted inspection.
But he added: ‘[Now] We will support any request to suspend an inspection.’
The Coroner asked Ofsted National Director for Education Chris Russell whether ‘pausing an inspection’ was a ‘real entity’ or ‘mystical creature that has been created’ to answer criticism following Mrs Perry’s death.
She asked Mr Russell: ‘How can someone know that pausing an inspection is a possibility?’
He replied: ‘I don’t want to make policy on the hoof but we have listened and we will look at this.’
Ms Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, previously said the headteacher had experienced the ‘worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed the school on November 15 and 16 last year
Professor Julia Waters arriving at the hearing
Mrs Connor challenged Mr Russell, saying: ‘The possibility to pause an inspection does not exist.’
He replied: ‘No. I would say we need to look at the whole area of when the head teacher should continue with an inspection.’
The coroner then asked him: ‘I don’t see any guidance on [dealing with members of a school’s] senior leadership team becoming distressed? There is no reference [in the Ofsted inspectors’ guidance] which talks about what to do if a teacher becomes stressed.’
He replied: ‘There is no guidance about that.’
The Ofsted director told the court that Mrs Perry would have had to raise the ‘conduct’ of the lead inspector himself, if she was concerned about his behaviour.
Lead inspector Alan Derry has been widely criticised throughout the inquest for causing Mrs Perry extreme stress during the inspection with his ‘tone’, amid claims that he had had ‘an agenda’ ahead of the scheduled review of the popular primary school.
Mrs Connor asked Mr Russell: ‘If the headteacher has concerns about the conduct of the lead inspector, who would she raise those concerns with, the lead inspector?’
The Ofsted director replied: ‘Yes.’
The coroner has previously asked Mrs Perry’s GP and her colleagues whether there was a ‘direct link’ between the Ofsted inspection and her death.
All those questioned replied: ‘Yes’.
Last week Mrs Perry’s husband told the inquest his wife had had ‘dark thoughts’ about ending her own life following the Ofsted inspection.
The headteacher felt she had ‘let everyone down’ when the watchdog downgraded the Reading primary school from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’, Jonathan Perry said in a statement.
He added that she worried about the impact on the wider community, fearing it would cause her neighbours’ house prices to plummet and that locals would be ‘angry’ with her as a result.
The Perrys were due to exchange contracts on a new home on the first day of the inspection, the court has been told.
And her GP, Mr Black, told the court she became worried that she would lose her job and the family become ruined financially following the Ofsted inspection, as she was ‘main breadwinner’.
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